The Nigerian presidency has shown continuous disdain of the Christmas broadcast of Bishop Mattheu Kukah of the Sokoto Diocese of the Catholic Church wherein he criticized the All Progressives Congress (APC) government led by President Muhammadu Buhari. While retaining resentment over the message, the presidency acknowledged the inherent danger of the “ultimatum issued by an Islamic group in Sokoto, “Muslim Solidarity Forum,” ordering the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev Matthew Hassan Kukah, to tender an unreserved apology to the entire Muslim Ummah over his recent “malicious comments” against Islam, or quietly and quickly leave the state,” pointing out that “it is wrong because it is not in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The presidency in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, emphasized: “under our Constitution, every citizen has the right to, among others, freedom of speech and expression, the right to own property and reside in any part of the country, and the right to move freely without any inhibitions.” The government observed that Nigeria’s strength lies in its diversity. While admitting the responsibility of government to guarantee the upholding of the constitution, it added that every citizen should respect the rights of others.
“The right for all religions to co-exist is enshrined in this country’s Constitution. The duty of the government, more so, this democratic government, is to ensure that the Constitution is respected. But all must respect the rights and sensitivities of their fellow Nigerians.”
The presidency complained: “Father Kukah has greatly offended many with his controversial remarks against the government and the person of the President, with some even accusing him of voicing anti-Islamic rhetoric.”
The government maintained: “On matters such as these, responsible leadership in any society must exercise restraint. Knee-jerk reactions will not only cause the fraying of enduring relationships, but also the evisceration of peaceful communities such as Sokoto, the headquarters of the Muslim community as beacon of pluralism and tolerance. The Sultanate has historically had good relations with followers of all faiths. That is why Father Kukah was received on his arrival in Sokoto with friendship and tolerance.”
The presidency, however, admitted: “Under our laws, groups or factions must not give quit notices, neither should they unilaterally sanction any perceived breaches. Where they occur, it is the courts of law that should adjudicate. Unilateral action is not the way to go.
“Groups such as the Muslim Solidarity Forum must be seen to share and uphold the country’s multi-religious principles. And individuals like Father Kukah must respect the feelings of his fellow Nigerians in his private and public utterances.”
The presidency, however, did not give any assurance of providing protecting for Bishop Kukah whose life is under threat from the Muslim Solidarity Group; a tendency many stakeholders emphasized could precipitate religious war in the country.